Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter This week’s episode is a bit different to the usual format. We want to tell you about some rather special ski courses that we run at the start of each European ski season.
Why don’t you come and ski with Felice and me this November? I haven’t skied myself since January and I can’t wait. November? Surely, you can’t ski in the Alps in November? Oh yes you can – and in October too. But actually I’m talking about a short break or a full week in Val d’Isère in France when it opens for the season on the last weekend of November.
Up on the glacier.Now firstly, you’ll want to know about the virus safety situation and how it will affect your holiday. The good news is that because Val d’Isère had a highly successful summer ski season on the glacier in June and July they’ve already tried and tested the necessary extra precautions. They promise these won’t create lift queues or lead to any reduction in ski terrain or the flow of skiers around the mountain. Yes, you’ll be required to wear a mask on lifts and in socially-distanced lift queues, but otherwise, the skiing itself shouldn’t be affected.
With the current quarantine conditions of course, the biggest question still has to be: can we actually travel to the French Alps? I’d bet the farm on it. Why? Because it is a question of economics, not just health. Literally millions of jobs in the mountains and elsewhere depend on the continuation of the ski industry and resorts are already geared up and Covid-ready. So, yes, we are going to Val d’Isère. By the way, it’s worth pointing out that unlike many other European resorts such as Ischgl and Verbier last winter, there wasn’t a single case of the virus reported in Val d’Isère before the slopes and the hotels were closed back in March.
So go skiing, but why go on a course? Well, not everyone is an expert; not everyone wants to be one. But to get the most fun and enjoyment out of a ski trip you really do need to reach a general level of proficiency. Frightening yourself and taking a tumble on almost every run is really no fun at all and it’s also quite exhausting and there is the potential to hurt yourself…hell, this is meant to be a holiday not an assault course. I guess the aim is to be able to ski all slopes comfortably, regardless of the snow or light conditions.
Of course, you may already ski to a high standard but want to improve and learn new skills such as off-piste, moguls, or whatever. If you’re young and a budding freerider wanting to tear up the whole mountain at speed each day, all day – well, that’s also fine, but I’m getting ahead of myself…I’ll come back to freeriding. Much of it comes down to finding a combination of the correct equipment, technical skills and a belief in your own ability.
The classic complaint of so many skiers goes like this: ‘When the sun is shining and the piste is freshly groomed, I feel I’m now I’m pretty good. But as soon as the light goes flat and the terrain gets bumpy or steep or both, my technique falls to pieces and I’m all over the place.’ What’s happening in fact is that you’ve reached what’s known at the intermediate plateau – you’re ok at getting about on skis but you won’t… you can’t…progress unless you fix some basic problems. You need to find a way of banishing forever those bad habits that tend to rear their ugly heads as soon as the going gets tougher. First step is to recognise that you need expert help.
That’s where Pat Zimmer and his team of instructors come in. It’s a bit like taking your car to the garage: you may need a complete engine overhaul, or just a bit of fine tuning and an MOT. Pat has the uncanny ability to spot immediately what is wrong with your technique and – most importantly – he can show you how to easily put it right.
Pat’s a former French racer whose been guiding clients around the slopes of Val d’Isère for yonks. Way back when he founded the first independent ski school in France, concentrating on the international market in complete contrast to the ESF. His wife is English and he’s a fluent English speaker. He also speaks German.
So let me briefly tell you my story and how these courses first came about: I’ve been skiing for most of my life. For many years, as ski correspondent of British newspaper, The Telegraph, I made my living out of it travelling to as many as 40 resorts around the world each year.
One fateful April day I was badly injured in a fall while skiing a steep couloir with a guide in La Grave in the French Alps. A week or so later as I lay in my hospital bed in a haze of morphine, I got a phone call from Pat. He told me…WHEN you ski again…not IF…you will come to me in November and I will reteach you to ski in away that will save energy. Maybe you won’t ski like you did before, but you will still ski.
‘Yeah, yeah’ I said in an opiate haze. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to walk unaided again…let alone ski. But one thing I’ve learned down the years is that if you really, really want to do something enough…then there is no ceiling on what you can achieve. After two years on crutches, with one leg markedly shorter than the other, I was ready to take him up on his offer. Pat cannibalised two pairs and made me a carved insert to compensate for the shortened leg and on a bluebird November day in perfect snow conditions we went up the glacier in Tignes.
That first day I thought we were going skiing, but for Pat it was all about getting my nerve back, preparing me mentally. He insisted I just stand there for much of the morning and take deep breathes while looking up at the mountains and down at the slopes. I managed maybe thirty painfully slow turns. The next day a hundred, and so it went on for a week. Then Pat told me go away and make 10,000 turns and come back and see him again
I wrote emotionally in The Telegraph about my return to skiing after injury and scores of readers asked me if they too could come to Val d’Isère-Tignes in November and improve their skiing before the season truly began. That was more than twenty years ago, and thanks to Pat I now ski better than I did before that accident.
For me, I wanted to put back into the mountain some of what I had got out of it. Say thank you, if you like for half a lifetime of fun and to encourage others – including those making a come back after injury – to vastly improve their skill levels before each season truly got underway. And so I teamed up with Pat and Nick Morgan, the MD of UK chalet operator Le Ski, to offer these November improvement ski trips. We’ve had a lot of fun down the years and produced some really fine skiers including a couple of professional instructors. So come and join us this November.
How good do I have to be to come on the clinics?
Our courses are highly intensive, but extremely enjoyable. Small groups, (usually six in number, maximum seven) are divided according to skill and experience.
What’s the actual entry level?
You need to be able to ski linked parallel turns with confidence and in control down a blue run, and at least try to do the same down a red run. If you find you’ve under- or overstated your level, Pat can adjust the groups after the first day.
If you want to ski in the same group as your partner or friend, that’s not a problem. However you’ll both have to join the group suited to the lower level of the two of you.
By the way, even if your skill level doesn’t reach the minimum standard required, we are still happy to have you along on the trip, but you’ll need a private instructor at extra cost.
On or off-piste?
The courses are both on and off-piste for all levels and I should mention that we now also offer Freerider Heaven. This one aimed largely at a younger age group for those who want to ski all terrain fast and furiously with a like-minded (younger) guide who’s equally prepared to really go for it and find fresh challenges all day long.
You can join for a short break, a week, or even the full ten days. Full details at www.leski.com and click on ‘Our Service’ or visit www.actionpackedtravel.com and look at our Show Notes. Our email is [email protected] – and let us know in your email if you’d like to receive our ActionPacked e-newsletter.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes, Stitcher, or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Stay safe and we’ll see you next week.
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